Tag Archives: health

Cupcakes Won’t Do It

Proof that God has an interesting sense of humor: the part-time job that’s unpaid means about fifty times more to me than the one that gives me a paycheck.  And that’s a conservative estimate.

Another weekend over, and rather than making a mental checklist of all I have to do tomorrow at the office (and it’s a lot, with Christmas right around the corner, two interviews taping in studio beforehand and one that I have to do in the field), I’m thinking about items attached to the assistant teaching gig.  I’m wondering if the two white sashes who are testing this month will be in class Monday evening and if they cleaned up their palm strikes.  I’m hoping the yellow sashes have corrected their front kicks or at least gotten the incorrect ones waist high.  I’m hoping the damned commuter train comes in on time and traffic is reasonable, so I only arrive five minutes after the students instead of fifteen. And I’m thinking about a key.

Apparently there was a time in our school’s history when the founder handed out keys left and right to any black sash who asked for one.  That era is over.  A few weeks ago, I asked Sijeh Melanie if there was any way I could bribe Sifu to give me a key.  Her response:  “Well, I had to be married to him before I got one.”  I guess homemade cupcakes won’t do it, then.

We headed home from three hours of Saturday classes at about 1:15.  By the time five o’clock rolled around, I’d showered, worked the kinks out of my leg muscles with my massage roller, eaten, chatted it up with my family, and baked two different kinds of cookies.  At that point, I turned to my son and said, “Okay, I’m rested.  Let’s go back to kung fu now.”

“If I didn’t have to study for exams, Mom, I’d be right there with you,” my fellow die-hard answered, playing along with my fantasy.  Only it probably wouldn’t be a fantasy if I had a key to get back in.  Perhaps that’s why I haven’t been offered one.

Yep, it’s an interesting sense of humor.

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The Kid in the Room

At my age, the only thing that can make me sound and act like a five-year-old is to get a correction right in kung fu.

“I did it!” I squealed, fists raised to the ceiling in triumph, with the right one still clenching my trusty staff.  (The “it” was relatively simple, as it often appears to be – but only after I’ve gotten something right that spent far too long being wrong.)

Sifu Kevin looked at me and nodded with a momentary smile, before practicing a section of a wushu sword form that was so fast, loud and frenetic his own niece had once been frightened by the performance.  His expression to me was one that could be found on any parent at a playground whose child had requested that they watch some fantastic display of athletic ability.  In other words, it was a psychic pat on the head.

I couldn’t help but laugh quietly as I walked to the back of the rotation line, staying close to the wall to prevent being nicked by the blade as Sifu ran past me.

I’m old enough to be his much older sister or his frighteningly-young mother, but I’m the kid in this relationship…and I’m now okay with that.

“Maybe you have a problem with my age…” was something then-Siheng Kevin wrote to me in a long ago email, complaining about my propensity to question and explain, or rather my inability to simply say, “Yes, sir” or “No, sir,” when spoken to – and nothing else.

I reread that thought of his several times and tried to consider it objectively.  Had I ever, before kung fu, been in a position where I was expected to follow the directives of someone younger than I?  I couldn’t find an instance in my personal life, nor in my professional one.

The single exception had been in tae kwon do. But there, all the teachers below Sensei were within a couple of years of my age, not more than a dozen years younger.  With the age difference between Kevin and me (and several other kung fu teachers), I at least qualified as a contemporary, not a subordinate.  That was the thought existing somewhere in my head that I hadn’t bothered to consciously acknowledge until Sifu called me on it, back in my green sash period.

There’s a more martial attitude in my Baltimore kung fu school than there was in D.C. tae kwon do.  Sensei had been accorded a formal response to every sentence she uttered, but all other teachers were addressed by their first names, no titles.  I was, in essence, accustomed to being instructed by a compatriot who knew more than I, rather than directed by someone whose higher ranking I had to acknowledge at all times.  It was culture shock of the highest order.  And with every other thing going on in my life at the time (see post “Let Up Already!”) – and my natural propensity to say what’s on my mind – it served as one more hard thing to handle.

Fast forward several promotions and years later, and I’m looking for approval and a psychic pat on the head from the young-un in the blue pants (from my southern heritage, “young-un” is the appellation I attach to anyone who wasn’t alive in the 1970s!)  I was obviously won over somewhere along the line.  And I’m more than fine with that.


The Joy of Fridays

I used to fear Friday night class.  Truly. Thoroughly. Fear it.

I never knew until I was already there what the night’s regimen was going to consist of; so I had all day long to think about it and worry:

How many rows of wheel hands would we have to do?  How many kicking combinations?  Would we do ten full forms in singles or doubles?  After how many rotations of practicing sections?

How would my knees hold up?  My back?  How much pain would I find at the end of the two-hour, invitation-only session that a black sash candidate was required to attend?  Would I get the dreaded cramp in my calf again, the one from empty stances, the one that awakened me in the middle of the night?  No stretch or massage ever relieved it.  I just had to wait, powerless, for long, long minutes, until it released me.

I hated Friday night.

For six months of black sash testing, I wondered, as I entered class on the last day of the work week, if I could execute all I was told to that night without needing to cry or stopping to pray.  By the end of it all, I could.  In the final weeks, I could even smile – before I left the building, not just in the car on the way home.

The joy of Fridays has returned to me.  It returned with the presentation of the final sash.  And I use that joy to bake cupcakes, watch a movie, and rejuvenate for training of my own making.  I use it to do whatever I want to do.

I’m still invited to Friday class and sometimes I go.  But not this week and not last.  I’m not sure when I’ll go again…and I’m not worried about it.


“Step away from your son”

“How did you do that?” Merle, my decidedly better half, asked me while resting my injured hand in hers and staring at the purple bubble of skin on the back of it.  Sifu opened for training today, despite the closure of city schools – a first, as far as I know.  So I did what I normally do on a Monday.

“It happened on a slam,” I answered, expecting that to be the end of the questioning.

“A slam?  How’d you get an injury there on a slam?”

“I was trying not to crush the knuckle I always hurt on this hand during slams by connecting with the floor on the flat of my fingers.  But that just crushed the knuckles at the other end of the finger, which apparently made the hand swell.”

“No, honey.”

“What?”

“You can’t do the slams like that.”

“Well, I know that now.”

“So did you ice it?”

“Yeah, a little bit.  But I had to get back.”

“You kept doing slams?

“Yeah.  I can’t not practice the slams; I mean there are too many other things to get right during slams then just the slam itself.  Is the knee pointed forward?  Is the staff straight when I’m spinning it behind me?”

“I know,” she said, completely familiar with what I meant, having learned the staff years before I did.  “I just would have thought a bruise like this would end the night’s practice.”

I looked at her as if she’d just spoken to me in Greek.

“Oh my God,” she mumbled, putting her head in her hands.  She’d obviously remembered who she was talking to and realized how highly improbable it was that a bruise on my hand would cut short a night’s training.  “Okay.  I’m going back upstairs now,” she said making a few steps of the ascent.  She was stopped in the stairwell when Ava practically ran her down coming the other direction.  So she was still standing on the stairs when Aaron walked up to the three of us and I asked him:

“Can you show me how to pick you up for a take down?”

“NO!” Merle shouted in her sternest I’ve-had-enough-of-this tone.

“I don’t know, Mom,” Aaron answered, looking pensive.

I know,” Merle interjected.  NO!”

“I was thinking about auditing a Sancho class, but I should probably be sure I can do a take down before I try.”  I could tell by Merle’s expression that my explanation was so far from satisfactory that it wasn’t even funny.

“I can teach you to do a one-legged take down,” Aaron said, ignoring the marital tension, “but I can’t even do two.  I’m probably the second lightest person in the class.  I can’t really pick anybody up.”

“It’s all in the knees – the knees,” Merle emphasized, “and you want to pick this boy up with your knees and your back.”

“Whoa,” Ava chimed in, contorting her neck to examine my half purple hand more closely.

“Okay.  Never mind.”  I turned my attention to my daughter, whose expression was growing more horrified by the second.  “You’re looking at my hand with ‘eeew’ written all over your face.  Cut it out,” I said with a chuckle.

After a few moments of discussing my second slamming mishap in as many training days, I could feel Merle’s stare raining down from the upper steps.  I looked up at her expectantly.

“I’m not going anywhere until you step away from your son.  You’re going to try to pick him up the minute – ”

“No, I’m done with that idea.  Every once and a while I watch Aaron in Sancho class, and I think I want to try it.  Tonight was one of those.  But don’t worry.  I’m done.”

“Okay,” she said with suspicion in her voice, and I knew we were both thinking the same thing: Done?  That’ll be the day.


Let Up Already!

It’s been snowing all day, and I’m annoyed.  I haven’t had to drive anywhere; I haven’t even had to walk anywhere.  But in this day and age of technology, gaming and not doing anything that might cause one to break a fingernail, many are slow to pick up a shovel and a bag of salt to clear sidewalks in anything remotely akin to a reasonable amount of time.  I’ve also noticed, in more than twenty-five years of living below the Mason Dixon Line (after growing up in often-snowy New England), that city officials don’t ever seem to prepare well for winter.  They usually have far more important things than snow plows and the personnel to run them on which to spend tax dollars.   Bottom line: I’d be shocked if my children have school tomorrow.  And I want them to have school Monday.  I want it rather badly.  That’s why I’m annoyed.

Is it really a big deal if my 12-year-old daughter, Ava, and my 16-year-old son, Aaron, bum around the house a couple of weeks before winter break, get in one another’s way and thoroughly erase the weekend’s housework in a matter of hours?  Of course not.  But our kung fu school is closed anytime that weather closes the city schools.  And that is a very, very big deal!

I need my Monday training.  I need it more than any other day’s, because with the school closed on Sundays, the longest gap in training time is between the end of class in the one o’clock hour on Saturday and warming up in the five o’clock hour on Monday evening.  Think pack-a-day smoker going fifty-two forced hours without a cigarette.  Not pretty, believe me.  I used to smoke.

I gave myself a bizarre bruise of busted capillaries on the side of my index finger Saturday with an awkward – and obviously incorrect – slam of the staff against the floor.  Gotta fix that.  The slam, that is; not the finger.  The finger will have to take care of itself.

Getting a long staff back in my hands is the reason I look forward to Monday – that and helping teach the beginner class.  Getting up pre-dawn for an hour-long commute to work, after getting a couple of extra hours of sleep for two days over the weekend, makes me otherwise loathe Mondays.  Kung fu saves the day – literally.  Only a late train home and an exceptionally clogged drive from the station to the school can make me walk through the door unhappy on a Monday.  Such a far cry from how I walked in the door the very first time back in 2008.  Then, I walked in angry and uncomfortable, though I didn’t know it at the time.

I’d moved up the highway with my family just before the housing market implosion.  My adolescent son, who was significantly less than thrilled to be leaving his hometown of D.C., had already entered the phase of life in which everything parental was bad, stupid, irritating or meaningless.  So between being unhappy about moving to Baltimore and just being a tween, he could generate hostility merely by walking into the room.  Going to kung fu required sharing a seven mile car ride with my bundle of joy.  So it was easy to be tense by the time I got there.

I can’t put it all on Aaron, though.  I still had the job in D.C., and the first year in Baltimore, I drove to work every day.  I was probably more wound up from my commute than I realized back then.  I mean, by the time seven or eight months had passed, it was clear as day that I was going to kill somebody if I didn’t conquer the commute.

I also wasn’t all that happy at the job I was commuting to.  I’d changed departments around the same time we started going to kung fu – a change I’d requested, but I wasn’t doing very well at the new gig.  It was a job that had more to do with putting correct information into a database in the right way at the right time than anything else.  I had too much ADD and too little enthusiasm for data entry to do it well.

I was a television news producer.  I researched political, legislative, executive topics of the day, found the right guest to discuss it, found the right graphics and pictures and video to enhance the story, formulated the right questions and put it all on the air in the hands of the host.  Going from that to primarily data entry made me want a new employer all together.

And, there was losing mom.  I probably should have mentioned that first.  That’s called burying the lead.

We moved to Baltimore one year and three weeks after she died.  We started taking kung fu classes two weeks after what would have been her sixty-sixth birthday.  In fact, we’d started tae kwon do in D.C. right around the time she told me that the cancer was back.  Two years – and for me, two knee operations due to tae kwon do injuries – later, she was gone.  And I certainly wasn’t over it a lousy year later, if one ever is.

So that was the general picture of my life when I returned to martial arts after being sidelined for a year by injuries, the death of my mother, relocation to a new city, and a requested reassignment at work that wasn’t going so well.  Yeah.  I was definitely angry and uncomfortable in the early days of kung fu.  Now, I howl at Mother Nature to let up already on the snow and ice so I can go train!

Quite the transformation it’s been.  Let me count the ways….